Tag Archives: weekly writing tips

Carving Out Writing Time

Of course, we love our work and so we’re motivated to make time for it. But, make time out of what?  Busy lives, demands from family, friends, home, and work appear to fill every day to bursting.

Carving moments of peace for employing our drafting skills — and for anything else, for that matter — is a skill in itself.  We blink, and the better part of the day is gone.  All we have left are a couple of hours best spent not with brandy in the basement, typing madly into the night, but with our loved ones, building lives and memories and getting ourselves and our writing brains  a good night’s sleep.

One way to approach carving out times of serenity is to begin by imagining the goal. Picture ourselves at our favourite time of day for drafting, in our favourite writing place. For many of us, we feel freshest in the morning.  And, we probably have an hour or two, within a morning or two during the week that is at least meant to be under our control.

The next step is to look at this block of time.   What activity fills it now?

Can it be canned, or perhaps chunked through the week, like shopping or cleaning?  Or, if it’s a wonderful activity, could it move to the afternoon or evening?

And if it can’t be canned, moved, or spread throughout the week, for example if you’re dealing with a 24/7 boss, or tiny children, it’s worth remembering the words of a friend of mine:  “There’s a time for everything, and your time will come.”

Because, when life really is too busy to write, that’s when we gain experiences to write about.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. Cheers Mel

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuse: Stuck for an idea, you list 20 ways it could happen. Superb writing practice. Your Writing Muse #amwriting @pulpliterature

Writers’ Block Busting

As a mystery writer, I love misdirection, because it sets me to investigating.  Quick and unhelpful answers to writing questions are some of my favourite black boxes.

The knee jerk answer we all get when we ask, “Why am I stuck?” is, “Writers’ block”.  Litmus test on this answer:  Quick?  Sure.  Unhelpful?  Totally.  So why do we accept this answer?  I’ll tell you why some of us accept it, it’s because if we have writers’ block then that’s proof we’re actually writers. So, once we relax and agree we really are writers, just as we have always wished to be, let’s deal with the serious issue of being stuck.

If we’re stuck, it’s like being stuck in any aspect of our lives that is getting us down.  It means we don’t have excellent goals to keep us interested, excited, and on track.  In writing, goals mean outlining.  So, when brainpages adhere one to the other, one way to get unstuck is

  1. Procure a timer
  2. Set the timer for 5 minutes
  3. Outline the beginning, middle, and end of your story for 1 character.  I often use the story evolution page from the brilliant First Draft in 30 Days : A Novel Writer’s System for Building a Complete and Cohesive Manuscript(Paperback) – 2005 Edition 
    by Karen Wiesner

Repeat as necessary, for more characters, until the writing mind is raring to go.

In order to avoid getting stuck at all, outlining this way in odd 5 or 10 minute parcels of time during the week works wonders.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. Cheers Mel

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuseWriting down your great goals fuels your writing career beautifully. Admirable practise.  Your Writing Muse #amwriting @pulpliterature

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Galloping Time, Supporting Systems for the Writing Life

Now and then, a moment arrives, when hardly anybody wants anything from us. Maybe something was cancelled, leaving a serene empty space, or it’s the day after a holiday.

I used to go mad at such moments.  Quick, this is my chance to write 5400 words.  But, what if, instead of typing up a storm until the next serendipitously empty timeslot raises its noble head and invites us to gallop away upon it (okay, that’s a tempting thought to me too, so if you love that idea, leave this paragraph in your dust and ride away on inspiration), what if we use this little moment of peace to redesign the systems and reset the components of our lives to create timeslots of our own?  And perhaps ask 3 questions:

  1. If my perfect life and writing career were here, what would it look like?
    hint: every day includes time for relationships, for eating and moving well, and for kicking back.
  2. What am I using up time for that I don’t like much, and that doesn’t serve me or mine?
    hint: we all know what to do, so, how to do it?
  3. In the area of life where things seem so crazy they’re sucking my creative energy, is there any system, perhaps over the course of the week, that I could set in place to make things less onerous?
    hint: systems are not about achieving perfection, they are about our present selves doing something in a few minutes to save our future selves an hour for writing.

I don’t want to use my creative powers to deal with It’s five pm and there’s nothing to eat, what magic can I perform?  I like cooking, but I’d prefer to use the magic on my manuscript and have food in the fridge and a plan in the kitchen.  Come the weekend, I don’t want to take that big beautiful 3-hour drafting timeblock and use it to shoulder through crowds at Costco.  If we can generate a system or two, we can support our creative powers without shortchanging our lives and the people we adore.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. Cheers, Mel

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muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuseWhatever the weather, you keep writing. Your persistence, endurance, and strong talent move your career along beautifully. Your Writing Muse 

Adventures in Writing

untitledEndurance is one of the great challenges in our writing careers — holding on with tenacious minds to the idea that we can do this, even though we’re working on page 17 with 350 left to go.  But even more boldly, we’re also attempting to devise something brilliant, something that has never been made before.  Originality has always been a daunting sort of goal.  Making something out of nothing is the ultimate creation within the arts.  By definition, creation takes us out of our comfort zones.

One trick to time management and self-motivation, is to find a way enjoy the tension and fear, rather than frittering our drafting time away with other things in an unconscious avoidance of a big leap in storytelling or any tricky aspect in our writing careers.

It’s kind of like a day up Whistler, I guess, facing the most challenging run we’ve ever taken.  And, we never wanted it to be easy.  If we do this crazy thing, we do it because we know we can.  It’s down to us to find a line and follow it, and to choose — not whether we’ll do it, we already know we will, we’re equipped with the skills we need, we’ve paid our bucks, and won’t turn back — but choose to enjoy the ride and wear a cool smile while the snow arcs up around us.  What a great day this is.  Of writing, I mean.  Darn, I’d love a day up Whistler, too.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. Cheers, Mel

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuse:

I admire your discipline as you create time blocks for planning, drafting, & revising during your busy week. Your Writing Muse 

The Pop-Up Writing Space

We most likely have, each of us, a dedicated writing office space of one kind or another. Here, seated or standing at our own desk, we often feel primed to begin. It’s almost like having a head start on the work. I hear some of us saying, as I have from time to time, I can only write when I’m alone in my office.

Still, charm of setting and pursuing a noble goal are not enough for storytelling, nor are they always enough for the writers who devise them. Just as the stories we’re writing demand transformation to hold a reader’s attention, our writers’ minds desire change to keep sharp.

Libraries.  Coffee shops.  Different areas in our homes.  If we consider devising pop-up writing spaces, should silence be a prerequisite?  Those of us who admire Jane Austen’s work know we’d be missing much had she required quiet.

A pop-up office won’t be as fab as our own perfectly — or madly — arranged private offices.  Especially office spaces we love with all our hearts.  But, even pleasures may fail to please when we settle into a favourite rut.  Our brains are our most important writing tools, and they thrive on change as much as comfort.

 I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. Cheers Mel

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuse:

You keep the goals for your writing career in plain view. A perfect guide for your continued success. Your Writing Muse

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Your Opening Image and Page One

small-camera As in the movies, the ideal opening image for novels and short fiction will be resonant and unique.  Or, as a perspicacious agent once said to me, “Why the bleep are you opening your story with a bunch of characters drinking beer in a pub?”

Take a look, for example, at the opening image of the 2007 film Once. The first scene nails time (night) place (empty city street — thus, an opposition, Dublin) the promise of genre (musical) and a hint at the central conflict, (a kind, talented man playing music in pain to an empty street, who clearly needs to get together with somebody).  The title letters come together, and we have the advent of the girl who likes his music.

There are plenty of books out there that nail time, place, tone, promise of genre, and a hint at the central conflict.  Of course, rules are meant to be broken — I’ve seen award-winners that begin with a two-page inner-voice rant. However, it’s a real pleasure to see instances where the five are nailed in the opening sentence, as in George Orwell’s 1984:  “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

I suggest brainstorming 15-20 ways a story might begin.  And, because it’s a great help to us all, I must mention the biggest aid to writing an opening scene:  the closing scene. Whether the first seeds the second, or we’ve got a circular tale on our hands, the fabulous end to a tale is our best help to writing a brilliant and engaging beginning.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing day.

Cheers, Mel

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuseThere are no unimportant characters in your tale. Brilliant storytelling. From your Writing Muse

One Aspect of Pace in Storytelling: The Morian Pause

manwithhorsesmallSometimes we writers sense, despite careful plotting, that not enough is happening, when really what’s wanted is a pause.  Best selling Sci-fi author Kathy Tyers calls these pauses moments of beauty.  Here readers receive a valuable gift from the narrative: a little time to appreciate all that excellent work in character development.

Think of Tolkein’s Frodo, in the mines of Moria, resting in a moment of relative safety.  He has a chance to look around him at this terrible, beautiful world, and we’re privileged to hear him talk with Gandalf as in the old times back in the Shire.  Character development here is superbly satisfying, as we get a chance to see how the hero has changed since the days when he loved to listen to Gandalf’s stories, now that he’s in one.  And, at the end of that moment, while we’re deep in the beauty of their interaction, Frodo and Gandalf give us the exchange that will resonate to the end of the tale.  “What a pity that Bilbo did not stab that vile creature, when he had a chance!”  “Pity? It was pity that stayed his hand.  Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need.”

The beauty and calm of such a moment, contrasted with the struggle ahead, achieves a double poignancy.  First, we may wish with Frodo that we could stay here forever, and our sympathy and fear for the hero grow stronger because we’ve shared this very private wish for peace with him.  Then, as he rises to take on the dangers ahead, we are even more on the hero’s side.  Taking time to write moments of beauty makes readers smile, and creates exquisite pace.

 I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing day. Cheers. Mel

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuseYou keep track of the way each turning point affects the subplots. Clever work. From your Writing Muse

Storytelling Power

swordEditorial revisions will almost certainly be necessary for every story,  but we’ll be wise to approach editorial, whether paid or unpaid, from a position of storytelling power.  Stories that are not tightly revised for narrative structure before they’re sent to editors risk such broad-stroke suggestions as “You have too many characters, take most of them out.”  Or, impossibly narrow editorial desires such as “Give me a beginning like the first ten pages of MacDonald’s Lillith.”  Editors work hard to keep sharp and insightful, but when a book’s structure is very loose and tangled, we’ll look for any loose end to pull.  Just trying to help.

“No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else’s draft.”― HG Wells

All readers, of all ages, want and expect a resonant, flawed hero with whom to identify; an authoritative start, incluing time, place, tone, setting, promise of genre, and a hint at the central conflict; exchanges of power and non-linear, original adventures; a teeter on the edge of real or metaphorical death; transformation; and a final face-off and a satisfying resolution.  If we can keep our solid narrative structure outlines to hand — I like to call this, doing previsions — rather than simply drafting what comes next, then we give editors solid storytelling to edit.  Our second-round revisions will be simpler, and our readers will want more of our work.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. Cheers Mel

Suprisingly gripping reads about editors: F Scott Berg’s ‘ Max Perkins, Man of Genius’ and James Thurber’s ‘The Years With Ross’

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuseEach of your supporting characters forces the hero to learn and grow towards the final conflict. Kudos from your Writing Muse

Taking the Next Step in a Writing Career

Goals get us up in the morning.  Before we rise, before the business of the world we’ve created takes over our day, we can remember that our great desire is to publish a shelf-load of stories, or to be a best-selling science fiction writer, or to write a character that will live as truly as Sherlock Holmes does.  And then ask:

What’s the one thing I need to do next? 

It might be to

  • create a unique setting for the next scene
  • make a supporting character force the protagonist to do what he’d never do (character development: see Donald Maass’s guides to writing)
  • find a better way for a character to stumble and pivot
  • write out the elevator pitch
  • write a jacket blurb
  • list 20 options for a better title
  • plan an overview of the development of a trilogy
  • draft the final paragraph of the story, even though it’s hardly begun

Whatever it is, our inner writer will be crafting it in our busy day, while we make tea, find our other shoe, fold the laundry, drive to the day job.  And create the writing career we wish for, one step at a time, in the right direction.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week.  Cheers, Mel

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuseThe body of work you’re creating now provides a solid foundation for your career.  Congratulations on achieving so much, and on having such an amazing journey behind and ahead of you.  From your fan, your Writing Muse

Success, While You Wait

pledge-smallSometimes it may seem as though success is a very slow mover.

We know our book is good.  We shop it here and there, without seeing much enthusiasm from editors, agents, or indie ebook lists.  We know that all we need is somebody to believe in us, and we wonder just when we’re going to arrive on that desk, that indie best-seller list, that review blog.

But, here’s something to consider.  If we were to arrive right now, is there a cache of work to put out there to please a burgeoning following?  Maybe we have lots of awesome work close to ready, or ready, to go. But if not — or, even if so — we’ll do well to welcome this calm before the storm of success as a gift from the muses.

Here, in this serene space, where nobody is demanding revisions, proofs, or interviews, we have the relatively uninterrupted opportunity to use our learning and gifts to make sure we have a topnotch skillset and a superb shelf of work to sell.  Our future selves will be most thankful for all this work accomplished, and even more, that we always believed in our own success.

I hope it’s another brilliant writing week for you. Cheers Mel.

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuseThe middle section of your story teaches every writer what energy is all about in storytelling. All good wishes for your continuing success, from your Writing Muse.